Thursday, April 4, 2019. What is the role of state and authority today, in the 21st century? If you look around in this world, different states show a quite diverse range of political systems. There are, in the Europe and northern America states which have democratic systems. There are many systems which do not allow far reaching personal freedom, even if they may have parliaments which officially govern the state elected by “the people”. But even within democratic states there are leaders. We elect people to be responsible, or by property and ownership there are people in charge of a company or institue or process to guide others.
How do you personally deal with authority? How do you treat people who are given some authority, for example policemen, or someone in a state office, or your line manager in your company? What are you feelings? How do you talk about them? What are the difficulties? What is going well?
Good Lives …
Let us look at the biblical perspective! There is the first letter of the apostle Peter, where he addresses the topic of authority. Have a look:
11 Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which wage war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. 13 Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. (from 1 Peter 2)
Christians are called to live a good life! They are called to behave according to the standards of God, who freed them and who is their father and saviour and origin and goal. Peter talks about a life as if Christians would be foreigners and exiles in a world which embraces sin. Keep something like professional distance to some things. Yet, love your enemies. This melody and accord continues through the whole New Testament!
Peter also tells Christians to submit to authority. We are to acknowledge that some people are given authority. In our modern society, this is no longer so self-evident. People question all kind of authority. And we need to understand, that this has been an important ingredient of the development of the enlightenment and the full modern society as a whole. How could we have discovered scientific insight without questioning the stories about nature which were known before? Questioning authority is at the root of modern society, and one could go further: questioning authority is a very basic human moment, it has been there from the very beginning. It is in the middle of the biblical story of the paradies.
Yet, we are still told to submit to authority. As every biblical text, there is an immediate historical layer here. Christians lived in a society shaped by the authority of the emperor in Rome. Jesus told his disciples to submit to this authority, as far as faith was not touched. He told them to pay taxes. He told them to do what they were told, and to do even more - as a step of free choice and a step of love to the enemies.
Christian philosophers have taken this command up and used it to argue for submission to authority in Christian societies as well. We all know how many difficult developments came out of this line of argument over the ages, with suppression and death in the middle of a “Christian” world. At the same time, authority is important. There is no community which could function completely without authority! We need it, and we need to put leaders in place in the church - as the original churches did, by electing elders and deacons. Think about it … I will continue to think as well. (Roland Potthast) ... further texts